Why Plant in the Fall?

There is something about autumn that brings out the gardener in all of us.  Maybe that is the nature of living in the South, where the pervasive heat of summer drives us indoors and we only venture out again when there is a morning chill in the air and dew drops again glisten on the lawn.  Then, we perview the damage done by the brutal summer heat, and we begin repairing our garden oasis.

People often ask, when is the best time to plant.  For trees and shrubs, fall is the right answer because it allows time for the root system to become established before all the demands are placed upon your new tree or shrub in the spring.  Just imagine if you were a shrub and you were placed in the akward position of having to acclimate to a new environment, grow big and tall, and flower all at the same time.  That’s a lot of demands on your new shrub, but that’s what happens when you plant in the spring.  Now, imagine what happens when you plant in the summer … during a heat wave … and a drought.  Ouch!

The root system of your shrub or tree is the part that takes in the nutrients and the water.  By allowing your tree or shrub to root in during the fall and winter, your established root system will be able to absorb more nutrients and water in the spring, thus promoting more growth and more blooms during the spring growing season.  And, in the summer, the more established the root system, the better your tree or shrub will be able to withstand drought conditions.

Let’s debunk the myth … or misunderstanding … that people have about waiting to plant until AFTER the final frost date, which is April 16th here in the Greenville area.  The final frost date is for gaging when to plant annuals, not trees and shrubs.  Clemson Extension states in its Planting Shrubs Correctly HGIC 1052 flyer the following:

  •  “Unlike the tops of ornamental plants that go dormant and cease growth for the winter, roots of ornamental plants in the Southeast continue to grow throughout the winter months.”
  •  “Fall planting allows the carbohydrates produced during the previous growing season to be directed to root growth since there is little demand from the top.”

Don’t get me wrong.  People have good reasons for planting in the spring … “I wanted to see the blooms before I plant” … or even the summer …”The grandparents are here for a week to watch the kids so we finally have time to work in the yard.”  But, for optimum success for your tree or shrub, the experts agree … plant in the fall.

For more information, we suggest the following guidance:

  • http://www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic/plants/landscape/shrubs/hgic1052.html
  • http://www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic/plants/landscape/trees/hgic1001.html